By Alek Sigley (Tongil Tours founding partner)
Written on the 7th of April, 2018.
We will be pausing updates for the usual “North Korea Blog” here for the time being. Instead, we will be posting regular updates for a new blog: “From Perth to Pyongyang” (named so because I’m a proud Perthite!), about my experiences as a student at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung University.
That’s right! I am writing this blog live from Pyongyang. I’ve been here for almost a week now, and will be here for two to three years in total, during which I will try to update this blog on a weekly basis.
I’m currently going through procedures to officially enter Kim Il Sung University’s graduate school for a master’s degree in modern Korean literature. Hence I’ll be in Pyongyang for two to three years—in other words four to six semesters, depending on how quickly I am able to write my thesis. I’ll still go back home during the summer and winter holidays, but for the rest of the year, I’ll be living here in Kim Il Sung University’s foreign student dormitory where most of the university’s foreign students stay.
I’ve become possibly the first Australian citizen, and certainly one of only a handful of Westerners (“Westerner” defined according to the Cold War sense) to study in North Korea on a student visa (the short term language programs we’ve run in the past have been on tourist visas). I’ve also become (to my knowledge) the third Westerner to pursue a full degree in North Korea, as most of the Western students to study here have done short programs during the summer or just a single semester of language study.
So what I’m doing will be fairly unprecedented. A lot has been written on North Korea and Pyongyang from a tourist perspective already, but the student experience is completely different—yet very little has been written on it, and even less of it in the English language.
Not only does being a student here mean I stay here for an extended period of time; years versus the usually one week that tourists stay here for, but I will be living in the Kim Il Sung University foreign student dormitory with the other foreign students and local Korean students from Kim Il Sung University. I will be free to explore Pyongyang without having to follow a set itinerary or have a guide with me at all times, and will be able to set foot in the vast majority of the city that is in effect off-limits to tourists.
I’ll also be taking postgraduate classes (in most cases one-on-one with the teacher), on modern (North) Korean literature with professors from Kim Il Sung University’s literature department, and then writing my thesis on a topic related to modern North Korean fiction. I’ve studied a little bit of modern North Korean literature already, and really am looking forward to reading more as well as seeing how it is studied and analysed within the North Korean academy.
Thus I hope to bring you all some new insight into North Korea— on its people, its food, and its culture, as well as on life as a Western “expat” in Pyongyang, and open up a new window into North Korea’s education system and ideology as I progress through my studies.
I also hope to start up a video blog on our Youtube account in due time. In the meantime, you can continue to follow this blog here, and check out regular photo uploads on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages, where I will be using the hashtag #perthtopyongyang.
Tongil Tours will continue to be run as usual while I am here. So please don’t hesitate to book on a tour if you’re considering it!
Thanks, and stay tuned for more soon!